Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 5 Aug 11 09:08
(can't anyone just join inkwell.vue and post directly if they want? thought this was a public conference; but I could be rusty on what that actually means.)
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 5 Aug 11 09:16
No, they have to send their comment via e-mail. They can read it with no problem.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 5 Aug 11 10:00
jacques, i really resonate with your comments on no place for voice. i looked around at the world of publications about 10 years ago and -knew- 'no place for me' --- as all i really have on offer is voice. and when i tried to explain to non-writer friends how i knew 'no place for me', they would just not get it when i would try to explain the distinctive writerly voice prob/publications seem more and more about one conforming to their editorial stance. despair. so in the spirit of scientific inquiry, i bought ed's KS (and to support him as well), figuring it would be a good way to feel into whether or not this might work for my own longer piece i have sitting in a drawer. but, to be my contrarian self, i have long been uneasy about e-readers of all kinds, for nicholas carr/neurovisual processing reasons --- and sure enough, i found reading longform online that way the opposite of the deep immersion i do with longform print. and i know -why- amazon doesnt let you print --- but still, disturbing. i also know what a bad corporate citizen amazon is --- between the sales tax fu, the screwing over publishers on e-rights, the vanishing of the edition of 1984 (1984!) that some kindle owners bought --- these things creep me out. that amazon could revoke/take back/unpublish what i wrote --- made it feel like 'this isnt really any kind of solution to my problem of lack of venues for what i do'. KS isnt -permanent-, as the way publishing in print certainly, and online somewhat, is. while i am -glad- jane's piece took off as it did, i am not convinced for the rest of us --- who arent vibrant international brands (sorry, jane, to have to characterize your good self as such. but you are!) --- that publishing a KS will do much good. obviously a KSP means greater push from amazon, and that has to be helpful. but some of us have never been great at promotion --- even if we try; and more times than might be apparent, all the marketing and promotion in the world doesnt do much. i am also not sure that my piece-in-the-drawer lends itself to easy categorization/would organically find its audience; i have deeper concerns that the kind of belle-lettres i do and only know how to do --- has a place any more anywhere anyway... so i decided to not go the KS route (seemed like violating too many of my principles and instincts for what i felt would turn out to be very little $; perhaps i -can- be bought, but not for so little) --- but i remain interested in the process, and (perhaps), open to changing my mind.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 5 Aug 11 10:15
Paulina, have you thought about blogging them on Wordpress or something similar?
Jennifer Powell (jnfr) Fri 5 Aug 11 10:23
I want to disagree a little with Ed in <22>, where he said >> Anyone can self-publish, and, I'm afraid, that's who does. I have a soft spot for democracy, I guess, and an instinctive distrust of authority figures anyway, but I love that anyone can self-publish so easily now. Yeah, lots of it will be crap, but lots of it won't and while most writers will never find a big audience - just as most don't now - many will find great satisfaction in a small audience, the ability to reach readers directly, and to encourage their own creative impulses in a way the more traditional systems of publishing really did not. Personally I feel unleashed by the ability to write and post whatever I like. I hang out these days with a lot of folks who are self-publishing ebooks, and they are a remarkably talented and committed bunch. I am more impressed by them and their writing than I would have imagined. There are an awful lot of writers out there, even decent-to-great ones, who were not quite in a commercial niche or who got tired of the query round who are now able to reach for their dreams, and I think that's wonderful.
David Gans (tnf) Fri 5 Aug 11 10:34
This is happening in the music business, too, of course. The playing field has been leveled to a large extent, but along with that the ceiling has been lowered considerably.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 5 Aug 11 10:40
This is true, but I like what jnfr said. I realize that I can love deeply amateur expression as well as adept and honed professional expression. One of the reasons I love discussions in The WELL and other good forum-spaces is that they are so often interesting communication in natural voices, with editorial clarification built in to the interactions. Often the unpolished aspect is part of what hooks me. I remember reading Cliff Stoll's "Silicon Snake Oil" book, which has a topic from a WELL conference re-printed in it. (With permission for each of the people who posted, of course). It read just fine, even in the midst of a book by an author with a popular published book. There are decent-to-great authors and also decent-to-great improvisational collaborations -- oops, I mean conversations -- that are impressive and enjoyable. I suspect that low-priced e-books can fit into that ecology too.
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 5 Aug 11 10:44
I hear the questions Paulina raises. I thought about them hard, and ended up deciding that for me it's not dissimilar to the question of having our books sold in the big chain stores, when that first began. Those megastores killed off many independents and changed the landscape of publishing permanently. Yet however much a person could still try to do everything possible to support the independents, would you ask your publisher not to put your books in the chains? A few writers refused to give readings in them, but I can't think of anyone who asked not to be sold there. Like the chains, Amazon is for many people the way to have access to what isn't otherwise available. Like the chains, they sometimes try to do things in ways a person could rightly question. We who participate in capitalist culture at all end up in fuzzy terrain a lot of the time. I really though would question the other part of your post--I would lay down good money if I were a betting person that 99% of the people who bought The Heart of Haiku had no idea who I was when they bought it. They're just people who buy Kindle Singles. The other 1%, sure. This would not be the same for Jon Krakauer or David Baldacci or Susan Orleans. But for me, the only way my previous books might have made a difference is that the people who gave The Heart of Haiku reviews knew my other writings, and vouched that they're worth reading. That's not irrelevant, but I don't think it was the main thing. The main thing was simply that it was there to be seen on the Kindle Singles home page for the first month it was out, and remains findable now if people look for previously published ones. (And if anything was familiar--it was haiku. "Haiku," I can imagine someone thinking. "Heard of that. Would like to know more, if I can find out on a single sit down reading, and this sounds lively from the description." I think subject matter plays a huge role in the non-fiction Kindle Singles, much more than author.) Since this topic's about alternative ways of publishing in general, Paulina, I'm curious about your blog for the NY Times. How do you feel that fits into this landscape? Or if anyone reading this blogs on the Huffington Post? The general question here is about democratic access outside the "old media" terrain of magazines and regularly-published books. (I realize your comments probably have to do with writing on other topics than the blog's narrower focus, and how to put those forward, or whether you want to... I'm all in favor of "publishing" remaining a conscious choice, and kind of love the periods when I go on publishing sabbaticals and just write to write. That was my original relationship to writing, and remains the heart of it, for me--put me alone on a desert island with no thought of rescue, I'd still write.)
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 5 Aug 11 10:48
David's post about music business (which went up while I was typing the above) is a great expansion of the conversation. Would love to hear more about the details from that parallel art form, David, if you feel like saying more.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 5 Aug 11 10:52
(<dwilson> -- I'm doing one of those Arcadia books. I'm getting 10%.)
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 5 Aug 11 11:00
Well, the music biz stuf has been pretty well aired out, and this is something rather newer, so let's save that discussion until we've hacked out a better understanding of what digital publishing is, and then we can start drawing the parallels.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 5 Aug 11 11:08
1st, jane, i think you may have me confused with <pspan>, -paula-. i most certainly do not blog for the new york times! 2nd, and i cant tell you how many times in the last decade i have had to explain this, i. am. so. not. a. blogger. my writing is considered/literary/literate; comes from long periods of rumination; doesnt read anything like blogs and isnt disposable like blogposts are. i have never kept a journal; what i write i intend will be still usefully readable years after it is created; privacy is important to me and i have no interest in contributing to the bloviation/datasmog culture we live in. by contrast, i have always been a letter-writer --- which means writing my take on things at the moment to a particular person in a private exchange. again, so different from a blogger. if you have ever -read- anything i have written, i dont think you would think 'she could be a blogger' (fwiw, tom jennings, helped me put together an archival website of my work...paulinaborsook.com. it exists purely as archive...) for me also, there is the writely version of the epistemological qualm: if you write something of value and there is no one to read it (which is the fate of most blogs and most self-published work) --- why do it? for me, there is a performative aspect to writing to be read. a bias: i have hated self-publishing all my life, ever since i 1st came across my 1st what-was-then-called vanity-press published book when i was about seven years old. most of us need editors; work that has been edited and curated is just generally more worth reading; and while i believe in free speech (obviously) and self-expression, i dont necessarily want to read what most people have to say about most things (this, in the sense of 'sitting down to read', obviously not in the sense of lurking through well conferences.) another bias: i loathe memoir as a form --- which in a way is what blogs can be. and jane, as for your wonderful success with your ksp, i feel that your having a devoted community of folks (not just on the well) to launch/be early adopters of your ksp -has- to have helped.
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 5 Aug 11 11:10
While I'll say that by now there is no stereotype about what a blog is, what the quality of writing on it is, and how it's valued by its readers. It seems to me you have to start somewhere, and I'm not sure you are. If I didn't put my stuff out in all kinds of ways at this point, I'd be in even worse shape than I am.
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 5 Aug 11 11:59
HUGE apologies, you are quite right I crossed wires on Paula's writing and yours. Unforgivable lapse there. If this weren't a public conference, I'd scribble the post. But then people wouldn't know what you were responding to. I can't do memoir type things or blog either, fwiw. That's why the Kindle Single format appealed. I can faintly imagine someday wanting to write something that might appear in a blog format though--just not using that format regularly. The interesting overlap is the author's control of their own material, that the author chooses what to say in a way less dictated by others than "normal" magazine publishing. The departure, as you point out, is editorial presence beyond the writer him/herself. I'm always really grateful for a good copyeditor, which I had for my Single. Others have had more editorial input than that. It all feels like some intermediate realm to me--just as intended, I suspect. The length also--as I mentioned in the byline conference in the Well, the Guardian in the UK has just started offering "Guardian SHorts"--longer pieces than the newspaper itself can accommodate, being sold by the piece online. (This is I think all generated in house.) So one thing I think we can see pretty clearly already in these new-format places is that there was a length-niche that was going unserved. The minimum length of 5-6,000 words for all these venues (if that's the right word) pretty much guarantees that the pieces can't be too blog-like-- something as long as even the minimum requires a lot of time to write, and shape. That almost enforces a qualitative difference in how any piece of writing will engage with its subject, whether fiction or non-fiction, compared to shorter blog pieces. (Whether the result is good or bad I suppose stays a question--but it will be different... this post might have been more readable if it were a good bit shorter!)
Jennifer Powell (jnfr) Fri 5 Aug 11 12:07
Fiction writers are playing with different lengths for self-published ebooks now, lengths that trade publishers wouldn't have accepted. Short stories as singles or in compilations of course, but also the return of novellas and shorter novels. Not every story is best written at 100,000 words, and there's more freedom to test those limits now.
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 5 Aug 11 12:10
Why I'm thinking that two 6000+ word short stories I wrote some time ago might be my next attempt. Offered to the editors first, then do the self-pub route if necessary.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 5 Aug 11 12:17
some blogs i find chatty/amusing --- particularly ones which are more like graphic novels/cartoon strips. but generally, no, i dont find them a replacement for what has been lost; i find it so sad that the divine <sumac> is reduced to writing her episodic blog about the natural world --- where i doubt her readership is by rights what it should be --- and of course no $. there's another aspect to this i find disturbing: the whole 'american idol'/'survivor'/ popularity contest/bidding process --- rather as if everything at best has become a pta fund drive for new band uniforms. part of a larger world of collecting 43,793 of your closest friends on FB... i also dont know if 'success' is replicable; for example, if jane had another essay lying around (which had taken her months to create), would it garner the same response, with the same enthusiastic going viral? ed, will your second effort garner the same support from your extended network as presumably your 1st effort did? there is some feeling about this to me of nonprofits who keep hitting one up for donations... and jane, i take your point about work 6k words or longer by definition cant be too bloglike...
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 5 Aug 11 12:23
I have no idea what that second one would do. Right now I'm waiting to hear from a real agent about a real book proposal that's sitting at a dozen real publishers, and of course that has priority, not just because of the money, but because I'm fired up about it and want to hit the road researching it in October. I'm still seeing how this e-thingle is working. Today (for those of you who've read it) I remembered that Nikki is on Facebook and sent her a "you're famous" link to it. She was thrilled, and told me that three years ago she and her husband visited Letschin on what turned out to be Alte Friz day and the Bartsches had a huge barbeque-and-beer setup there. She was so knocked out that she's passing it on to her various networks of nonprofit folks in the Southwest. I think a friend who teaches creative writing may be requiring some students to buy it. So... wait and see. And, of course, jump at any possibilities which come along in the meanwhile.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Fri 5 Aug 11 12:25
Concerning questions way back in #20 and #21 about the Kindle Singles editorial process, itâs pretty simple. You submit a story. An editor-- David Blum is the only one, I think-- decides whether he wants to publish it as a KS. In my case, he came back with some suggestions for expanding it. I am so used to writing tight to fit pieces into magazines that my essay probably felt a little too compressed, and I was delighted that he asked me to expand it. I followed some of his suggestions, ignored others, and returned the expanded piece to him. He accepted this without further revision. It then went through some kind of copy-editing, but whoever did this wielded such a light hand that I noticed no changes. Then it was published. All this took three weeks, which is stunning considering that the process with most magazines takes several months. On Janeâs question about The Atavist, I think the publishing process is much the same as KS. Like KS, the Atavistâs site describes how to submit proposals and completed stories, but a major difference is that itâs already overwhelmed with submissions, and in any case for now only publishes one story per month. As a result, the story Iâve been assigned wonât run until November at the earliest, and may be much later depending on when I finish it. Also, much more than KS, The Atavist is devoted to narrative nonfiction-- it wants stories with characters and a fiction-like arc. And Paulina, I share your concerns about Amazonâs politics and bad corporate behavior. I had to weigh those issues against the pluses, and decided in its favor. One major plus is that writers get 70% of the proceeds from all domestic sales, compared with the relatively tiny percentage that publishers offer, and writers also continue to own the rights, so a piece could still be published as part of a book. Those aren't small considerations.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 5 Aug 11 12:34
ed, i am so -glad- that your long-established networks are kicking in for you to support your 1st KS! and i do get the making-the-tradeoffs issue with amazon; i guess for me my pessimism about whether/how my would-be KS would fare (not on a subject i am known for) vs the ick factor about amazon/the process --- decided against it for now.
Jennifer Powell (jnfr) Fri 5 Aug 11 12:39
It might be good to note that official Singles have a different royalty structure than self-published works do. Some of those get the 70% royalty rate, depending on the work, its price, and where the book is bought. Some get 35% instead.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 5 Aug 11 12:44
So it seems KS offers a writer two options: self-published or published and promoted by Kindle itself. As writers, do you always hope for money and marketing for your offerings, or as Jacques and Ed have alluded to, just find some things worth putting "out there" from the heart, or whatever, irregardless.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Fri 5 Aug 11 12:53
Ted, I think "Kindle Singles" refers to the pieces that Amazon selects and promotes; the self-published pieces don't have the KS designation. As for me, I certainly want the imprimateur of a publisher (of some sort) on what I write. I don't "put things out there" without it. In fact, aside from essays, everything I work on is commissioned-- I've found that it's just not worth the labor to work without a commission and the accompanying commitment to publish.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 5 Aug 11 12:56
Thanks for clearing that up Jacques.
Jennifer Powell (jnfr) Fri 5 Aug 11 13:05
The publishing program is known as Kindle Direct Publishing, and it's available to anyone. But Kindle's not the only venue for self-publishing. Barnes & Noble's PubIt program for the Nook takes self-published works. Smashwords takes original content which it sells in its own store as well as supplying B&N, the Apple store, Kobo, and some others. But Amazon's the only site with a publishing program of its own, which includes not only Kindle Singles, but some genre imprints like Thomas & Mercer (a suspense line which is snatching up successful self-pubbed authors like crazy). They also have an alliance with some traditional publisher for print runs, but I can't remember who that is right now.
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